In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, we look at what the aborted fourth Raimi Spider-Man film might have looked like, and the answer isn’t pretty.
In January 2008, things were looking good for Spider-Man fans. Spider-Man 3 was the biggest hit of the franchise thus far, and Raimi, Maguire, and Dunst had all signed on to do a fourth installment, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. Sony was even planning a fifth and sixth installment as well.
Then the wheels fell off. Two years later, Raimi would be gone, taking Maguire and Dunst with him, and Sony would be rebooting the franchise less than ten years after it began.
There are two writings from this era that would give us hints as to how the fourth film might have worked out—if the writings are at all legitimate. The first is a First draft/Test draft supposedly written by Lindsay-Abaire, the second, a treatment by Raimi himself that was to contradict the Lindsay-Abaire script. But there are enough red flags in each that calls their authenticity into doubt.
Let’s start with the Lindsay-Abaire script, which immediately raises two red flags. RED FLAG #1 is that the script is only 41 pages long. Each page of a script roughly equals out to be one minute of screen time, so this means Lindsay-Abaire’s script wouldn’t even be long enough to be a one-hour network drama, sans commercials. RED FLAG #2 are the numerous grammatical and spelling errors in the script. Granted, it is a “first draft”, but you’d think that a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright would know the difference between “rite” and “right” and know that “Spider-Man” and “Daily Bugle” should be capitalized.
Lindsay-Abaire has the Lizard be Spidey’s only adversary in the script, but only gets his official film origin in a truncated pre-credit sequence. I’ll call this RED FLAG #3, if only because Dylan Baker deserved better.
We pick up on Peter Parker in his new job as Assistant Editor of the Daily Bugle. How did Peter get this promotion? By faking a picture that looks like Spider-Man was stealing as per J. Jonah Jameson’s request. This is RED FLAG #4, for anyone who remembers Spider-Man 3. See, in that film, Eddie Brock is fired from the Daily Bugle by Jameson after Parker reveals that Brock doctored a picture of Spidey to make him look like a criminal. It’s a pretty big plot point. It’s the reason why Brock wants to kill Peter and be willing to become Venom to do so. If Jonah was willing to have Peter fake photos, then Eddie’s faking photos wouldn’t have made that big of a difference and the last film would have been one villain shorter and that much better for it.
Anyway, the Lizard goes on rampages across the city and Spidey tries to stop him. In the mean time, MJ leaves Peter because he can’t give up being Spider-Man, so Peter starts getting closer to Gwen.
Peter is still in the same ratty apartment he was living at in the other films (RED FLAG #5, if he got a better job, why not a better apartment? The script shows he’s been helping Aunt May with the extra cash, but still…) when he gets a call from the hospital. Aunt May has taken sick. She has an infection caused by radioactive isotopes in her blood and they need radiation (“like chemo”) to counter act its effects (which I’ll call RED FLAG #6. It mirrors a malady May experienced in the comics (Amazing Spider-Man #31 to #33, to be exact), but that was back before they knew exactly what radioactive particles in the bloodstream would actually do.)
Peter comes up with the only idea that will save Aunt May—injecting her with the Lizard’s blood! That will cure her! Um…RED FLAG #7: if she needs something like “chemo”, why not give her chemo? Or at least try chemo first before Peter goes after the Lizard? And RED FLAG #8, it’s pretty clearly established that the Lizard’s powers are cause by something he injected into his blood stream. Soooo, if Peter injects May with the Lizard’s blood, wouldn’t he be passing along his powers as well?
Spidey finds Curt Connors down in the sewer, working on a machine that will cure him of being the Lizard. Connors will give a blood sample if Spidey, who reveals his identity to a foe once again (RED FLAG #9), helps on his machine. Spidey asks what happens if the machine doesn’t work. Oh, there’s a syringe with the serum that could be manually injected (RED FLAG #10: Why not, you know, use the syringe instead of building a complex machine to do the same function?)
Of course the machine doesn’t work and Spidey has to chase the Lizard through Times Square to give him the serum, leading to the climactic fight scene. Spidey wins, Connors and May are cured, and we are on to the epilogues.
The first shows a man named Roderick Kingsley (who comic fans know as the Hobgoblin) entering the former Osborn mansion. It appears that he has bought the place. He notices the mirrored doorway that Harry broke in Spider-Man 2. Kingsley steps inside and notices all of Norman’s goblin paraphernalia. This brings us to our final RED FLAG # 11. I’m not schooled in the world of real estate, but you have to think that people would make repairs to the Osborn mansion before they sold it. And if they did, they’d notice the stash of goblin stuff in the secret closet. Which would be more likely: A) The realty company takes out all the goblin stuff and does something with it, B) a worker snaps a few pictures, sells them to the Daily Bugle and they get the scoop that Osborn was the Goblin, C) a workman steals the tech for himself, or D) they leave it as is, not even fixing the door, for the next owner to come in and do with it what they will. I pick anything other than D.
The second was Peter setting things right with Aunt May and the third indicated that Gwen Stacy would have been the romantic interest from then on out.
Eleven red flags are a lot, but the fact that the Lizard was the villain of the reboot does add veracity to the script. I can’t say the same for the “Sam Raimi Treatment,” which just might make 11 red flags by its second paragraph.
Like the Lindsay-Abaire script, the cover page doesn’t have a date (RED FLAG #1), but it goes into detail about how the script is not just for writers Gary Ross and James Vanderbilt and “executive in charge” Todd Black, but also that it is supposed to be considered over the Lindsay-Abaire script. This seems unnecessary because that fact should be obvious to all concerned (RED FLAG #2).
The four-page treatment also begins in the Daily Bugle. This is where the red flags will begin piling up. Peter finds that J. Jonah Jameson is out as editor of the Daily Bugle, and is replaced a humorless man called Adriano Tombs. If you think that name sounds similar to the real name of Spidey villain The Vulture, you’d be right. Tombs is the Vulture in this film, the name changed from the comic’s Adrian Toomes (RED FLAG #3).
Why was the name changed? Did “Raimi” simply forget how to spell it? Doubtful. But if he did, he probably had access to the source material at beck and call. Did they think Adrian was too wimpy a name? Tell that to the linebackers Adrian Peterson runs over on any given Sunday. Chose Tombs to act as a counterpart to Vulture? It’s too punny. There’s really no good reason to change the name (RED FLAG #4).
But there’s really no reason to get rid of J. Jonah (RED FLAG #5), who was the one consistently great part of the films to date. I know the films are built around Peter having a connection with the bad guy, but there were better ways to do it than getting rid of one of the franchise’s best characters, especially because there is another emotional connection yet to come.
It is also revealed that Tombs robs banks at night (RED FLAG #6). When the banks are closed (RED FLAG #7). As the Vulture, with a flying suit (RED FLAG #8). Yeah, that makes sense.
Well, Peter soon finds out that Tombs is the Vulture by examining the crime scene with his heretofore unseen utility belt (RED FLAG #9) which helps him find a feather that has Tombs’ DNA on it. Or in it. The treatment doesn’t specify.
Next we meet Mary Jane and she has a bombshell to drop—she has reconnected with her real dad (RED FLAG #10). Yes, the abusive father from the first film apparently was a step-dad? Adopted father? Anyhow, you’ll never guess who MJ’s real dad is? It’s Adriano Tombs! (RED FLAG #11)
The Vulture makes the leap from robbing banks to stealing “nuclear power capsules.” (RED FLAG #12) In the process of stealing one from “Electro Corp,” (RED FLAG #13) he smashes a worker by the name of Max Dillon into a “nuclear power diode.” (RED FLAG #14) Instead of giving Dillon radiation powers, or, more likely, cancer, this accident gives him electrical powers. Thus enters the film’s second villain (RED FLAG #15), Electro.
Electro is so mad at the Vulture that he melts a Daily Bugle with a Vulture story in it (RED FLAG #16).
Meanwhile, MJ stumbles into Tombs’ secret lair and sees him fixing the mechanical wings on his Vulture suit. Let’s give the RED FLAG #17 for the lair being so easy to find, RED FLAG #18 for a newspaper editor being able to afford it, and RED FLAG #19 for having metallic wings when Spidey found a feather earlier in the treatment.
The next day, Electro attacks the Daily Bugle. The treatment doesn’t specify why, but it hints that either it’s because the Vulture’s pictures were in their paper (RED FLAG #20 for ripping off a plot point of the first Spider-Man) or to get Tombs/Vulture because he recognizes they are one and the same (RED FLAG #21 for not having anyone else make that connection, including the authorities. Come to think of it, Peter had scientific proof that Tombs was the Vulture since the third scene. RED FLAG #22 for him not acting on it).
Tombs escapes, but Electro tracks him down (How? Never said. RED FLAG #23). But now, instead of wanting to kill him, he wants to team up with the Vulture to kill Spider-man (RED FLAG #24 for Spider-Man 3’s plot point, which was dumb to begin with).
Next comes two emotional scenes from Peter’s private life. First is a scene where he admits to Aunt May that he is Spider-Man (RED FLAG #25, because that completes the supporting character who knows his identity set) and that he feels bad for not helping save Uncle Ben’s life (RED FLAG #26, for once again going to a well that was used in an earlier film.)
Second is a scene with MJ where she tells him he was right about Tombs but breaks up with him over his self righteousness (What? RED FLAG #27). She claims to be going to Los Angeles.
A sullen Spidey is on patrol when he sees a female cat burglar with white hair breaking into a “diamond storage house.” Spidey tries to stop her, but she gets away after Peter gets all moony-eyed over her beauty. A chase ensues and the pair comes across an arms deal by the docks. The couple breaks this up and gets so hot and bothered they go back to Peter’s apartment to have sex, complete with a morning after joint shower with female nudity that is stressed in the treatment. Peter then asks the cat burglar for help taking down the Vulture.
Ah, where to begin with the red flags. This, as any comic book fan will tell you, introduces the Black Cat into the film franchise. This also makes the number of villains in the film to 3, which is never a good thing for a superhero film (RED FLAG #28). And for a franchise that hasn’t had anything more sexual than an upside down kiss or anything more provocative that a wet T-shirt, we get a sex scene (RED FLAG #29) and a gratuitous nude scene (RED FLAG #30) one right after the other. Hook-ups like this seldom appear in real life without alcohol involved (RED FLAG #31) and for a man who wears a mask to hide his identity, Peter seems a bit too quick to let a woman he met while stopping her from breaking and entering into his circle of trust (RED FLAG #32).
The bad guys, meanwhile, decide to go after Spider-Man by targeting Peter because they ‘can sense it’ (Really, that’s what the treatment said. RED FLAG #33). “It” is a connection to Spider-Man which has already been established in the other films (RED FLAG #34). Of course, to get to Peter, they go through Aunt May, who they take captive. Because that is what bad guys do. Don’t go after the nebbish science geek photog who himself doesn’t appear to be much of a threat, take out his aunt instead (RED FLAG #35).
Soon, the city is plunged into darkness. Spidey and the Black Cat go to the “Main Power Facility” and find a twenty-foot tall Electro (RED FLAG #36) fighting police officers. Spidey needs him lured between two “energy pillars” so Black Cat lures him there by revealing some cleavage (RED FLAG #37), enticing giant Electro to follow. He does and when he is between the pillars , Spidey flips a switch and sends even more power into giant Electro, overloading him and causing him to explode “like a miniature nuclear bomb,” causing mass destruction along the east side of Manhattan.
Yes, not only did Peter willingly and deliberately kill the bad guy (RED FLAG #38), something he hasn’t done so far in the franchise (RED FLAG #39), but he does so in a way that, at the very least, the cops on the scene (RED FLAG #40) but most likely hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who have the unfortunate luck to live within range of Electro’s blast radius, die as well (RED FLAG #41). I mean, even miniature nuclear bombs are massively destructive.
Peter shows some remorse, but not much before Black Cat shoots him with a tranquilizer dart she produces out of thin air (RED FLAG #42).
A chained Spidey wakes up in a warehouse to find the Black Cat and Vulture working together (RED FLAG #43). See, she had to do it, because the Vulture kidnapped her sister, in one of the most convoluted yet not at all telegraphed traps in film history! (RED FLAG #44). And there the sister is, tied to the same pile of explosives that Aunt May is! (RED FLAG #45). And the Vulture is holding the detonator! (RED FLAG #46) Spider-Man frees himself, webs the detonator away from the Vulture and Black Cat attacks the Vulture. The Black Cat does the lion’s share of taking down the bad guy (RED FLAG #47) while Spidey frees the hostages. Spidey does web up Vulture for the cops.
Black Cat and Spidey make up, and Peter leaves the task of protecting the city to her, a burglar who has shown little to no interest in helping the city at all to this point and whose one defining trait is that she can’t be trusted (RED FLAG #48).
After a heart to heart with Aunt May where she forgives him, he bumps into MJ (What? All fights to LA delayed? RED FLAG #49). She has changed her mind and wants to be with Peter, who refuses, because that is what their relationship has come to by this point (RED FLAG #50).
The film ends with Spidey on top of the Brooklyn Bridge, feeling a “sense of regret” for being Spidey all these years (and apparently, all the lives he saved as well. RED FLAG #51). He tosses the mask off the bridge, deciding to give up being Spidey once and for all, you know like he did for a half hour in Spider-Man 2 (RED FLAG #52).
Granted, all treatments are rough with holes to be filled in at a later date. But this one is awful. If Raimi did write this treatment, the only reason for it being so awful that I am willing to accept is that it was a poison pill for the producers in order to entice them into accepting another version of the script. “They want Black Cat? Oh, I’ll give them Black Cat…in the worst way possible!”
If that’s the case, it backfired. John Malkovich was signed to play the Vulture and New York magazine’s Vulture website listed a plot that sounded an awful lot like this treatment.
Or it could be fan fiction constructed by what was known about the film and scenes from the older films and made up the treatment from whole cloth. I am leaning towards this one, because I want to believe an even deliberately awful Raimi treatment would be better than this.
Regardless, neither script got made. The above article lists everything from Raimi wanting Avatar like special effects in the film to toy licensor Hasbro raising concerns that the 60-year old Vulture wouldn’t sell many toys in their toy line as a reason for Raimi’s exit. However, the official party line is that Raimi wanted more time to create a workable script than what he was given and Sony, wanting to keep the sequels previously announced release date intact, refused to give more so Raimi left.
This of course caused Sony to start from scratch on a reboot (a process which ironically necessitated Sony moving the release date back anyway). We’ll talk about that next time.